Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bring on a Brand New Renaissance

A rainy Tuesday seems a good time for a post that will rise the ire of my Canadian friends. It seems that the Canadian government is not satisfied with their present ability to regulate the content of cultural productions consumed by Canadians with Canadian content regulations and the like. As a result of Canada's initiation, the UN has recently approved a convention that would attempt to stop the “cultural invasion” that results from globalization. While it is doubtful that this act will be anything more than symbolic, it does represent a chronic misunderstanding of globalization and contempt for the individual choice that is one of the foundations of modern societies.

France and (sadly, but unsurprisingly) Canada sponsored the convention, which was supported by 148 countries and opposed by just the United States and Israel, with four countries abstaining. The clear problem with this kind of cultural protectionism is that it undermines that ability of individuals to choose what kind of culture they like, or how to spend their time and money on entertainment. Just how (both practically and ethically) do you police what is on someone's iPod? Furthermore, in a more connected world the boundaries of what constitutes a work of art from a given country will become blurred – is The Lord of the Rings an American movie? Or is it better described as coming out of New Zealand? Or Great Britain? Although I’m not a big fan of cultural subsidies, as it just brings art into the political world, I prefer them immensely compared to limitations on what can be imported in the cultural realm, which limits the options of individuals to appreciate culture as they choose.

Canadians (and presumably, people in many other countries as well) consistently vote with their remote controls and movie-going dollars, and for the most part they see American-made products. This may be a shame, but I don't feel it passes the test for government intervention. Those of you that would support these kind of restrictions should answer this: did YOU attend any Canadian movies in the past year? Can you even NAME a Canadian-made movie produced in the past year? Actually supporting these products with your money will do more to "protect" Canadian culture than a hundred toothless UN conventions. While some will point out that the fact that most Canadians couldn’t answer these questions in the affirmative as confirmation that these types of protections are necessary, I think it demonstrates a market functioning as it should. These consumers are demanding the movies and TV shows they want to see. When a high-quality Canadian-made product is available, people will gladly support it (i.e. the various Degrassi series, Corner Gas, The Tragically Hip, etc…). If we (Canadians) want to "protect" our national culture, then we need to get serious about it and put our money where our mouths are, instead of blaming America for being cultural imperialists. Or even better, people can get over their xenophobia and just appreciate culture as produced by individuals, as opposed to countries.


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